Comment: Julia Jones asks the question: do we really innovate in New Zealand – or have we simply mastered the art of improvisation?
To improvise is to solve a single and immediate problem; to innovate is to anticipate multiple future problems and create potential solutions.
One isn't better than the other, it all comes down to what you are trying to achieve, matching impact with intention.
Innovation is scalable because it's likely to solve a global problem rather than a backyard problem. It creates the centre of an ecosystems universe for others to connect to.
Xero is a fantastic example of this. They created a platform that others create (improvise) solutions that attach to this universe. The difficulty with innovation is, you are predicting future trends and it takes time, commitment, energy and investment – both financial and emotional.
These factors make the risk high; however, the rewards are exponential when it works. For example, Xero's current market valuation is circa AU$13 billion; they employ 3000 people.
Innovation also tends to drive a significant transformation and is a disruptor rather than a response to disruption.
Like Xero, Allbirds is a great example of this; their innovation significantly disrupted the global multibillion-dollar recreational shoe industry and they scaled quickly to a market valuation of circa US$1.4 billion and source wool for their shoes from New Zealand.
Improvising is still awesome, it creates solutions for an immediate specific problem and forms an important part of the innovation support network, given it is so specific in nature it's often difficult to scale and limits its financial growth.
An example of this is Cash Manager Rural (CMR). A fantastic system that helps farming businesses record and measure their financial activities, it is loved by many.
CMR's purpose is specific to New Zealand farming and cash accounting. In its current form, it makes it difficult to scale up or take global. Improvisation also often tends to be a response to disruption, making the solution clear and immediate; time frames are shorter and as a result, risk is often less and rewards limited.
Thinking global to strengthen local
New Zealand leans heavily towards improvisation. I believe the reason for this is because we are harsh on those who fail and or rarely succeed; this drives middle-of-the-road thinking.
Success has often come from safety in the "herd"; if you break away from the herd it can make it very difficult to get funding and support to scale. This is seen by many of our start-ups seeking financial and scaling support offshore.
Don't get me wrong, we should be proud of our drive to improvise, it's kept things moving forward for generations, but we need to think global and to truly benefit local we need more innovation.
Innovation takes great courage. You need to be able to accept that you will most likely have moments in the journey when you fail, and when you do, you need the vision to pick yourself up and take that learning forward.
We also need the courage to succeed, be super aspirational and not settle for "just enough".
The more we can innovate to scale and grow value, the more people we can employ, the more people we can engage in the success, the more we can reinvest in our community, environment and the stronger an economy we can build.
Successful scalable innovation is extremely good for New Zealanders and something to aim for, not be afraid of. It's not about being greedy and building one individual's wealth; it's about building and lifting the wellbeing of New Zealand.
As the country's focus shifts to transformation and rebuilding a strong economic future, we need to ask ourselves: will improvising really be enough?